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As winter approaches, you begin to notice something else blowing in with the chilly breeze and the distinct, musky smell of decaying leaves. An unsettling realization of your own mortality? No, in this case, I am talking about the ubiquitous brown scarf around everybody’s neck – or as they like to call it, camel. I am talking, of course, about the Burberry scarf.
You may have seen some variations of it, be it dark grey and red, navy and black, or black and white. But even in its many shades and styles, it is always recognizable as a globally accepted symbol of luxury. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing it around your neck or on the collar of your trench coat - this distinguished check proclaims to the world: “yes, I did drop an exorbitant amount of money on this piece of cloth, and I would gladly do it again. Judge me all you want, as I walk to my Mercedes Benz.” Whether you are truly rolling in it or would like to give the impression that you are, the Burberry scarf is probably the first item you’ll acquire from this brand. The iconic piece. The one that started it all.
Or is it? Today, I will be debunking the history of Burberry, the process of creating the Burberry scarf, and what it’s like to own one. Then, dear reader, it is up to you to decide whether or not $480 plus tax in Canada is a fair price to pay to obtain one of these coveted fashion items.
In 1856, before Burberry became an international fashion house, it was a small store run by a man named Thomas Nicholas Burberry, located on Haymarket Street in Hampshire, England. This street would later lend its name to Burberry’s most recognizable “Haymarket check”, which is pictured below.
Thomas made a variety of items, from tents to jackets and everything in between. He was best known for a waterproof material called “gabardine,” which was essentially cotton that was woven with waterproofing solution before it was made into clothing. This is the material that is used in Burberry's trench coats today, and the trench coats have a neat trick of repelling water to the point that water droplets can gather in perfect dropets on the shoulder so the cloth below will stay absolutely dry.
As a brand, Burberry’s main claims to fame were its patented gabardine technology, and its subsequent ability to outfit people in even the most extreme of weather situations. An example of this is Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole who had all his expedition gear – including his tent – sponsored by Burberry.
Also, during the first world war, Burberry was commissioned to create a jacket that would survive and thrive in contemporary warfare, or rather, “the trenches.” Thus was the birth of, you guessed it..
The trench coat.
It sells for roughly $1850 for both men and women in Canada today, so if you have any grandparents who fought in the Great War, you might want to opt for vintage Burberry instead. However, I digress. Not only did this trench coat have waterproofing woven into the fabric, every feature of it was created with a use in mind. The D-rings on the belt? To hang your grenades off of. The bit of fabric belted at the back of the neck? To bring forward when it was windy, and close the neck hole to any chilly air. With words like “epaulettes” and “gun flaps,” I applaud Burberry and its ability to later turn this utilitarian war jacket into a fashion piece.
But back to my main question - why does a Burberry scarf cost $480, and why do people keep on buying them?
The Burberry scarf is 100% cashmere and the amount of cashmere that is used in one scarf takes one Cashmere goat a year to produce. This doesn’t mean they literally have one goat making one scarf scarf a year – if they did, the price tag would make a lot more sense, wouldn’t it? It simply means that for a goat to produce so much cashmere naturally, a person would typically wait a year. The cashmere is taken from the belly where the softest fur is found, and brushed so it can collect naturally. No animal cruelty is present in the production of the scarf, and the person who trained me during my Burberry onboarding remarked, “in fact, I think the goats rather enjoy it.”
So now you have the cashmere, what do you do with it? The scarf is woven and then washed in Scottish spring water, which is the softest water in the world. Then it is run through with thistles to create a slightly blurred look to the lines, and increase softness. This, in fact, is a good way to tell if a Burberry scarf is real or not: a real scarf’s lines will slightly blur into one another, as a result of the thistle brushing. Then the scarf is impeccably marketed, selectively sold, and beautifully packaged all for the low price of $542.40 after tax.
So how does it feel to own a Burberry scarf? Oh honestly, if you’re going to work at Burberry, the one thing you should buy yourself is at least one of their iconic scarves. So I did. I will be honest, though, in saying that if I didn’t get a staff discount, I would probably pass on the scarf. They are beautiful and mine will definitely be a staple of my winter outfit, but the price of half a thousand dollars cannot be justified to a student like myself. It might also be the fact that I decided to buy myself the one scarf that looks nothing like a Burberry, and to the untrained eye, would look like a fake. The heart wants what the heart wants.
What can I say; it looks nice with my skin tone.
At the end of the day, your choice to purchase this scarf (or not) is entirely your own. The scarf is unquestionably well-made and a quality item that will last you through the years. However, the steep price you are paying not only covers the cashmere scarf, it covers the expensive ad campaigns, beautiful packaging, and the overall Burberry name.
This said, looking back on the year that I’ve worked at Burberry, I’ve had people return polos, bags, jackets, but never have I seen a cashmere scarf returned. Yes, it can be hard to make that initial leap, but it looks like those who have bitten the bullet do not regret doing so.
That, or they’ve already instagrammed, tweeted, and Facebooked about their new scarf and would feel embarrassed returning it. Some food for thought.